Tag Archives | Left and Right

Molinari Society Location Update

According to the printed program, the Molinari Society’s session at 9:00 tomorrow morning is in Seminar A.

This is a cruel lie.

We are actually in Phillips Boardroom 3.

Okay, no problem, we turn to the map of the hotel that’s included in the program, and – oimoi, there’s no Phillips Boardroom 3 listed.

But I have tracked it down. It’s on the lobby level, at the top of the carpeted ramp at the far right of the lobby as you come in the main entrance.

I figure we may want to start a little bit late tomorrow to accommodate bewildered stragglers.

Molinari Review I.2: What Lies Within?

[cross-posted at C4SS, BHL, and POT]

The long-awaited second issue of the Molinari Review (the Molinari Institute’s interdisciplinary, open-access, libertarian academic journal) is here! Nearly twice the length of the first issue!

You can order a paper copy from Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, or, I believe, any of the other regional incarnations of Amazon.

(A Kindle copy should be available later this month. In the meantime, the previous issue is available as a free PDF download here.)

So what’s in the new issue? Here’s a rundown:

  • Anarchist communists reject not only the state but the market as well, arguing that private property and market exchange are as much a source of domination as the instrumentalities of the state. In “Supplying the Demand of Liberation: Markets as a Structural Check Against Domination,” philosopher Jason Lee Byas argues, to the contrary, that individualist anarchism, precisely because of its reliance on markets and the greater plasticity they offer, satisfies the anarchist commitment to non-domination more successfully than communism does. Byas highlights the potential dangers of anarchist communists’ proposed alternatives to markets, arguing that these dangers become even more serious when the dynamics of race, gender, sexuality, and other systems of privilege and oppression are factored in, while the market process can be shown to be a powerful engine for addressing such problems.
  • The economic regulations of the American Progressive Era have long been viewed – whether with approval or with disapproval, depending on the political perspective of the viewer – as a powerful blow against big business. In the 1960s, Gabriel Kolko and other New Left historians argued, to the contrary, that the corporate elite were the major beneficiaries of these regulations – a revisionist thesis soon enthusiastically embraced and promoted (much to the dismay of Kolko himself) by a number of free-market libertarian thinkers, including Murray Rothbard and Roy Childs. In recent years, however, Roger L. Bradley Jr. and Roger Donway have argued (see here and here) that Kolko’s account of the relationship between business and the state during the Gilded Age and its aftermath was flawed by a mistaken conceptual framework and a misleading use of evidence through selective quotation of his sources; for Bradley and Donway, what Kolko made to seem like corporate support for regulation was in most cases merely a matter of corporations adapting to regulation as a form of self-defense. In “The War on Kolko,” historian Joseph R. Stromberg defends Kolko against both the charge of misinterpreting the motives of corporate leaders and the charge of distorting the textual evidence, concluding that Kolko’s work remains “quite unscathed.”
  • Is there any connection between liberty in the political sense and liberty in the sense at issue in the free will debate? John Stuart Mill, in the first sentence of his treatise On Liberty, famously replied in the negative. But in “Libertarianism and Hard Determinism,” Thomas Lafayette Bateman III and Walter E. Block argue that if a human being were “no more than a moist robot, subject completely to nature’s laws,” then political institutions to protect such an entity’s freedom of choice would be pointless, abstract principles of rights would be meaningless, and seeking to control individual behaviour through totalitarian manipulation and the judicious application of stimuli would seem optimal. Hence political libertarianism and hard determinism are incompatible; a consistent adherent of the first must reject the second.*
  • For the past thirty years, philosophers Jan Narveson and James P. Sterba have been debating whether a commitment to liberty entails welfare rights or instead rules them out. For Narveson, those who acquire property by innocent means are entitled to it, and anyone who tries to take it from them without their consent is violating their liberty; whereas for Sterba, preventing the poor from making use of the excess property of the affluent is a violation of the liberty of the poor to access resources they need, which is a more important liberty than that of the affluent to maintain control of such resources. In “Liberty vs. Welfare Rights – Continued,” Narveson marshals the principles of Innocent Possession and Open-Ended Use to defend the right of the first user as more consonant with the requirements of peaceful and productive human cooperation than the right of the neediest user; in “A Response to Narveson: Why Liberty Leads to Welfare and Beyond,” Sterba argues that a more defensible formulation of the principles of Innocent Possession and Open-Ended Use instead favours the neediest user over the first user.
  • In our previous issue, Gus diZerega argued that contemporary libertarians misunderstand and misapply their own key concepts, leading them to embrace an atomistic vision of society, and to overvalue the market while undervaluing empathy and democracy. The present issue features an exchange among diZerega, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and myself on these matters, with particular attention to the interpretation of Ayn Rand, in contributions titled (from Sciabarra) “Reply to Gus diZerega on His Essay, ‘Turning the Tables: The Pathologies and Unrealized Promise of Libertarianism’,” (from diZerega) “Response to Chris Matthew Sciabarra,” and (from me) “It Ain’t Necessarily So: A Response to Gus diZerega.”

Want to order a copy? See the ordering information above.

Want to contribute an article to an upcoming issue? Head to the journal’s webpage.

Want to support this project financially? Make a donation to the Molinari Institute General Fund.

* Incidentally, I welcome Walter Block’s conversion to thick libertarianism – and look forward to his explanation of why his position here doesn’t really count as thick-libertarian. 😛

Quote of the Day

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

One of the tragic aspects of the emancipation of the serfs in Russia in 1861 was that while the serfs gained their personal freedom, the land – their means of production and of life, their land was retained under the ownership of their feudal masters. The land should have gone to the serfs themselves, for under the homestead principle they had tilled the land and deserved its title. Furthermore, the serfs were entitled to a host of reparations from their masters for the centuries of oppression and exploitation. The fact that the land remained in the hands of the lords paved the way inexorably for the Bolshevik Revolution, since the revolution that had freed the serfs remained unfinished.

The same is true of the abolition of slavery in the United States. The slaves gained their freedom, it is true, but the land, the plantations that they had tilled and therefore deserved to own under the homestead principle, remained in the hands of their former masters. Furthermore, no reparations were granted the slaves for their oppression out of the hides of their masters. Hence the abolition of slavery remained unfinished, and the seeds of a new revolt have remained to intensify to the present day. Hence, the great importance of the shift in Negro demands from greater welfare handouts to “reparations”, reparations for the years of slavery and exploitation and for the failure to grant the Negroes their land, the failure to heed the Radical abolitionist’s call for “40 acres and a mule” to the former slaves. In many cases, moreover, the old plantations and the heirs and descendants of the former slaves can be identified, and the reparations can become highly specific indeed.

Murray Rothbard, 1969

Convivencia, In My Dreams It Always Seems

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

[revised 11/16/20]

with fields full of grain
I have to see you
again and again

A Muslim and a Christian playing dueling banjos (13th century).

A Muslim and a Christian playing dueling banjos (13th century).

Mediæval Andalusia, or al-Andalus, was the region of Iberia under Muslim rule, its constantly shifting boundaries comprising, at their greatest extent, the entire territory of modern Spain and Portugal (plus a bit more), and at their smallest extent, just the area around Granada. (So, not quite the same territory as “Andalusia” today.)

This period, known for its many scientific and cultural achievements, has long been hailed as one in which (for much of the period, anyway) Muslims, Christians, and Jews were able to coexist and cooperate on peaceful and productive terms – an island of interfaith toleration and convivencia compared to the Christian kingdoms to the north and the more conservative Berber Muslim kingdoms to the south (both of which made repeated incursions into the region, bringing less tolerant policies with them).

Libertarians in particular will be familiar with Rose Wilder Lane’s enthusiastic endorsement of this thesis; and the beautiful 2007 documentary Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain defends the same viewpoint:

There’ve always been dissenters from this interpretation, of course, and in recent years they’ve grown increasingly vocal. This historical dispute is also very much entangled with contemporary politics; even though nothing about the present-day prospects for peaceful coexistence follows with anything like apodictic necessity from what people a millennium or so ago did or did not manage to achieve (especially given how much all the relevant cultures have changed since then), there’s nevertheless a tendency for those who are optimistic about the prospects for interfaith toleration today to point to al-Andalus as a positive model, while those who adopt a more belligerent clash-of-civilisations view tend to view al-Andalus in a negative light as well.

For those interested in getting an accurate understanding of the period, I recommend the following three books:

As you might guess from their titles, Menocal’s and Fernández-Morera’s books occupy opposing sides in this dispute; Menocal paints an especially rosy picture of the Andalusian convivencia, while Fernández-Morera takes the opposite line, arguing that al-Andalus was not only intolerant and oppressive, but much more intolerant and oppressive than Christian Europe. Cohen, for his part, takes a moderate view, opposing both the “myth of the interfaith utopia” and the “countermyth of Islamic persecution.” (Cohen’s book is both broader and narrower in focus than the other two – broader, in dealing with the Muslim world as a whole rather than just al-Andalus, and narrower, in dealing specifically with the treatment of Jews – but it nevertheless covers much of the same territory. And while the first edition of Cohen’s book came out before those of Menocal and Fernández-Morera, the most recent edition has an introduction specifically addressing their views. Oddly, Fernández-Morera cites Cohen’s work with high praise, as though they were in agreement, which they aren’t.)

I think one will get a juster picture from reading all three of these books than from reading just one. In my view, Menocal greatly exaggerates the virtues of the Andalusian regime, and Fernández-Morera greatly exaggerates its vices. But that makes them both useful if read with caution, because each makes points that serve as useful correctives to the other’s excesses. And then Cohen (whose interpretations seem to me to be generally the most reasonable) takes a more moderate position that serves as a check on both. (But Menocal and Fernández-Morera cover much material that Cohen doesn’t, so one can’t simply steer by Cohen alone.)

A Christian man and a Muslim man playing chess (13th century).
(While I’m no expert, it looks to me as though the Muslim is winning.)

Interestingly, if read carefully the three authors turn out hardly ever to disagree about the historical facts (despite Fernández-Morera’s pose as heroic exposer of the lies of academic orthodoxy); it’s much more a matter of selection and emphasis. There was, in fact, quite a bit of peaceful economic and intellectual cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims in al-Andalus; there was also, in fact, quite a bit of oppression and persecution. Which aspect was dominant varied by time and region, as one might expect from a nearly 800-year history comprising multiple changing regimes. I find both Menocal and Fernández-Morera to be a bit slippery in this regard.

As an example of where Menocal is misleading: she downplays some of the worst cases of persecution, such as one series of executions in Córdoba in the 850s, concerning which she suggests that the victims – Christians who had denounced Muhammad as a false prophet – were essentially asking for it; Menocal chillingly dismisses them as “wild-eyed, out-of-control radicals” and “would-be martyrs” who “knew for a certainty that they were forcing the hands of the authorities of the city by expressly choosing to vilify Muhammad.” Here Fernández-Morera includes some details that Menocal conveniently omits:

The first one to die as a martyr was a well-educated monk named Perfectus. In 850 [he] encountered some Muslims he knew, who asked him to explain what Christians thought of Christ and the Prophet Muhammad. He told them that they might not like the answer. When they insisted, Perfectus made them promise not to tell his answer to anyone. He proceeded to cite a passage from the gospel in which Christ declares that “many false prophets will come in my name,” and Perfectus added that Christians believed Muhammad to be one of these false prophets. … Some days later, the same Muslims saw him in the city, pointed him out to the crowds, and accused him of having insulted the Prophet. The monk was arrested and locked in prison [and eventually] was publicly beheaded.

This does not sound like the story of someone seeking martyrdom.

Again, when Menocal speaks blithely of the role of “women who sang for a living, young and attractive entertainers much prized in the Andalusian courts,” Fernández-Morera reminds us that most of these women were in fact slaves, and indeed essentially sex-slaves.

A Muslim woman and a Christian woman playing chess.
We’re in the end game now.

On the other hand, Fernández-Morera (who is incidentally a classical liberal of Austrian bent – gooble gobble, one of us!) for his part downplays the fact that these slave women of the Andalusian courts often fell, whether by sale or by conquest, into Christian hands, in the courts of the Andalusians’ northern neighbours – and their new Christian owners did not choose to free them. So as a special indictment of Muslim as opposed to Christian rule, the example falls short. (And certainly not all the women artists of Islamic courts were slaves.)

There is a still greater obstacle to Fernández-Morera’s suggestion that the Muslims were worse than the Christians in the area of religious oppression. He spends a lot of time talking about the burdensome restrictions placed on Christians by Muslim regimes, and fair enough; but he offers no comparable discussion of restrictions placed on Muslims by Christian regimes. As a matter of fact, during the subsequent period when Christian and Muslim kingdoms shared the Iberian peninsula – interacting sometimes as enemies on the battlefield, and sometimes as trading partners and military allies, depending on the pragmatic requirements of the situation – the status of Muslims under Christian rule was broadly similar to that of Christians under Muslim rule in the neighbouring Muslim states: a mixture of toleration and oppression, inclusion and exclusion, varying in details with time and place but not especially along interfaith lines. (For details, see Bryan Catlos’s books The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050-1300 and Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, c. 1050-1614.) But once the Iberian peninsula was fully in Christian hands again (with the completion of the Christian reconquista in 1492), and Christian kingdoms no longer had to come to terms with Muslim neighbours, Islam became illegal; in a series of edicts from Spanish and Portuguese rulers during the period 1492-1526, Muslims were forcibly required either to convert to Christianity or to be expelled from the realm. (A century later, Christians of Muslim ancestry – those who’d converted – were driven out anyway.) By contrast, when the Iberian peninsula was entirely in Muslim hands, no comparably universal and thoroughgoing persecution of Christians occurred. So if one wants to compare Muslim treatment of Christians with Christian treatment of Muslims, no number of examples of anti-Christian oppression is going to make the Muslims come out looking worse than the Christians’ complete ban on Islam once they recaptured Iberia.

And a Jewish man and a Muslim man playing chess.
This game looks a bit harder to call than the first one.

Any comparative thesis with regard to religious oppression is also going to have to take into account the treatment of Jews, a group relegated to second-class status by both Muslims and Christians. But here Cohen shows pretty convincingly that, in general, mediæval Islam was “more tolerant toward nonconforming minorities than Christianity” and that the contrary suggestion “ignores, one might say suppresses, the substantial security – at times verging on social (though not legal) parity – that Jews enjoyed through centuries of existence under Muslim rule.” (And of course when the Christians finally succeeded in driving all the Muslims out of Iberia, they drove all the Jews out along with them; many found refuge in the more tolerant Ottoman Empire.) Cohen’s explanation for Islam’s being more tolerant toward Jews than Christians were is that a religion founded by a merchant is naturally less prone to a certain traditional antisemitic prejudices. Another possibility I would point to is that mainstream Christianity’s distinctive theological doctrines (e.g., trinity and incarnation) render it more different from Islam and Judaism than the latter are from one another. (As for why Muslims tolerated Christians more than Christians tolerated Muslims, I’d assume this is related to the reason that Christians tolerated Jews at all, despite not tolerating Muslims: Christianity and Islam each tolerated the doctrines they regarded as forerunners of their own, but not doctrines that proposed to be their successors. Christianity and Islam each wanted to be the final revelation.)

There’s also a certain terminological slipperiness that both Menocal and Fernández-Morera seem to me to be guilty of. Words like “tolerance” and “toleration,” for example, carry a range of meanings, from grudging sufferance at one extreme (“I don’t like my cousin, but I tolerate him”) to the whole-hearted embrace of diversity and equal rights at the other extreme. Menocal will offer persuasive evidence for the existence of toleration in a weaker sense, and then follow it up with rhetoric appropriate to having shown the existence of toleration in a strong sense. Fernández-Morera, for his part, will offer persuasive evidence for the non-existence of toleration in a strong sense, and then follow it up with rhetoric appropriate to having shown the non-existence of toleration in a weaker sense. Thus the two authors manage to give completely opposite impressions, despite for the most part never literally contradicting each other. (Similar remarks apply to the term convivencia.)

The usually more sober Cohen manages to trip himself up over terminology too. He tells us early on that his book is “not a comparative study of tolerance,” since “[n]either for Islam, nor for Christianity prior to modern times, did tolerance, at least as we in the West have understood it since John Locke, constitute a virtue.” In other words, it makes no sense to ask whether X is more or less tolerant than Y unless we are prepared to say that X and Y both meet some minimum liberal standard for tolerance. But is that really how these words work? Admittedly some terms do work that way; while I think Prague is more beautiful than Kraków, I would not express that by saying that Kraków is uglier than Prague, because that does ordinarily seem to imply that Kraków is ugly, full stop, which it certainly is not. On the other hand, if I say that a mouse is larger than a mosquito, that does not seem to imply that the mouse is large, full stop. It’s not obvious to me that “tolerant” works more like “ugly” than like “large.” In any case, in the rest of his book Cohen cheerfully forgets this opening stricture and speaks regularly of mediæval Muslim societies being more tolerant than their Christian counterparts.

Continuing the terminological theme: Fernández-Morera also seems to think that the common use of the term “Iberia,” rather than “Spain,” to refer to the Iberian peninsula during the Middle Ages, is a “politically correct” subterfuge to avoid offending Muslims (despite the fact that both the subtitle of Menocal’s book and the subtitle of the Cities of Light documentary unembarrassedly say “Spain”). I should have thought the more obvious motivation would be to avoid any confusion that might arise from the fact that “Spain,” today, is the name of a distinct nation-state that shares the Iberian peninsula with another nation-state, Portugal. (I’m leaving aside Andorra and Gibraltar as small enough to be ignored, as San Marino and Vatican City are in speaking of “Italy”; but Portugal is larger and more populous than, say, Austria.)

Another slipperiness I find in Fernández-Morera is this: As he notes, when Muslim regimes in al-Andalus pursued policies of (relative) tolerance, this was typically a decision of kings and princes, often opposed by clerics. But clerics, not kings and princes, Fernández-Morera says, are the true authorised spokesmen for Islam. Hence tolerant policies by Muslim princes do not count as establishing the tolerant character of the regime, because the real policies of any Islamic regime are those favoured by its clerics, not those favoured by its king – even in those cases where the clerics have no power to enforce their preferences, and the king is in a position to simply ignore the clerics. This seems a bit of a stretch – especially considering that in Islam there was no one institution with the authority to declare what was or was not Islamic, comparable to the power claimed (though not unchallenged either, FWIW) by the Catholic church. So it’s unclear why we should regard the clerics’ determinations as more “Islamic” than those of the kings. (Relatedly, Fernández-Morera tells us that “Muslims in al-Andalus lived under a …. hierocracy – a government of clerics”; but for Fernández-Morera this “government of clerics” remains in force even when the king’s decisions, in defiance of the clerics, are the ones that actually carry the day. Fernández-Morera’s clerics sometimes seem to savour a bit of Emperor Norton.)

All this doesn’t mean that Muslim rulers had enlightened and liberal motives for their more-tolerant policies. After all, under Islamic law Jews and Christians paid a tax from which Muslims were exempt, which could plausibly have had the economic effect of weakening any incentive, on the part of those collecting the tax, either to pressure Jews and Christians into conversion or to drive them out. Then again, on the other hand, those raised in a cosmopolitan court atmosphere might well have developed a genuine affinity, even if perhaps more an æsthetic than a moral one, for an atmosphere of diversity and intercultural exchange. In any case, whatever the reasons, Muslim regimes in al-Andalus did foster conditions for such exchange, even if not as thoroughly and consistently as in justice they should have, that their counterparts in Christian Europe mostly did not.

So my final verdict is, broadly, one cheer for Fernández-Morera, two cheers for Menocal, and three cheers for Cohen.

Do We Need Government? No, But You Need This Anthology

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

A long-awaited anthology I’m scheduled to appear in (with a couple of pieces on the question “Do We Need Government?”) has now, I hear, been split into two – one volume on metaphysics and epistemology, and the other on ethics, æsthetics, and politics – and in that form (and with a bunch of historical selections deleted) is/are finally slouching toward publication; see the tables of contents here and here. Some old friends are in it/them too, as you’ll see (if you know who my old friends are).

I’m told: “The eText will be coming out in February [2020], with hard copies soon to follow.”

Turned Into Tongue and Trim Ones Too

This video about PragerU is worth watching, especially for its first half on conservative critiques of feminism. Pull quote:

When women are lagging behind men, for example in the wages they get paid, this is no problem whatsoever; it’s just a natural result of men and women’s biological differences. But when men are lagging behind women, such as receiving lower grades in school, well, that’s “everyone’s concern,” and we need to institute system-wide reforms in order to reverse the trend. And I like how biology is used here: it’s presented as both the reason to preserve a system when men are ahead, and also as the reverse – to reform a system when men are behind. The message seems to be that any societal system should cater to male biological traits (or at least conservatives’ estimation of what male biological traits are).

The second half of the video (starting at 16:31), on economics, is more of a mixed bag, since it’s essentially a left-conflationist attack on right-conflationism, with no Ramsey’s Maxim in sight, and thus predictably offers a fairly even balance of good points and confused points. But the very end (starting at 25:22), on graphs, is funny.

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